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So I've decided to format one of my hard drives that I barely ever use and install a free, open operating system on it alongside my Windows 7 install. I'm torn between what I want to install, so I'm going to let the StackOverflow community choose for me. Decide if I should install a Linux distro, a BSD distro, or something else, anything else. Back up your answer with a reason why, and I will choose whoever gives me the best reasons to install their respective OS. I am extremely tech-savy and can handle whatever you throw at me, so don't worry about anything being too technical.

And a friendly interface isn't important to me. I'm not afraid of starting at a black terminal window all day... not that I wouldn't enjoy a nice GUI either.

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Try a new one each month until you form preferences. –  sarnold Jan 26 '11 at 1:16
    
Personally, I would blow away Windows 7, install Ubuntu on it, then re-install Windows within VMWare (or one of the other excellent VM products). But that's just me. I would have put this in an answer rather than a comment except this is not programming related so doesn't really belong here :-) –  paxdiablo Jan 26 '11 at 1:17
    
You'll have scratch BSD as you called it a distro and you just got automatically disqualified from using it. ;) –  Dan M. Jan 26 '11 at 1:20
    
You know what I meant. </sleep deprived> –  Nick Anderegg Jan 26 '11 at 1:21
    
The point of this question is a bi-partisan, non flame war, Linux / BSD debate, as opposed to 90% of what is on the Internet. –  Nick Anderegg Jan 26 '11 at 1:28
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2 Answers

It depends on what for you would like a Unix like OS on your PC

  1. Passing from Win7 begin with Ubuntu Linux. The more user friendly Unix available at the moment with a lot of software easy to install and all benefit of Linux (highly customizible and very stable). Updates are very often, so your would always have latest fixes and patches.

  2. If you wish to use it as a server (to train yourself to administer Unix server), you can try Gentoo Linux or BSD. But be aware that they are much more difficult to configure and maintain (you will always be in front of black screen with terminal :), but would run much faster and be more secure.

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I was in a very similar position not too long ago... Not between linux or bsd but between WHICH linux to try. My solution was I tried 9 different ones...

I started w/ VMWare Player. You can get this for free from VMWare and use www.easyvmx.com to get your 'free' environments started. No need to dual boot if you're just trying them out. It'll be VERY helpful to have your 'host' computer up and running w/ the net ready to go while you test out your systems... Your VM will be bridged through your host's connection, so to your network (and the world) it will seem as if there is a separate computer running there.

I started with Suse(dont do it...). Moved on to CentOS. Moved on to Debian. Moved on to Ubuntu. Tried Gentoo, Tried Slackware. Etc... I basically tried the top 10 at www.distrowatch.com

I finally settled on fedora. Personally I like it the best (though straight Debian was a very close second). It's yum package manager is great (just like debians apt-get/aptitude) and its pretty cutting edge. It does everything i could ask of it. I keep it light and fast (fluxbox desktop, WHEN wanted... actually boots up in runlevel 3...).

The simple solution is to try everything out. THere is no risk and the worse that happens is you don't like something and move on.

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The recent versions of VMware Player (3.x) will build VMs for you, so it's even easier, no 3rd party needed. Works great for running Win on Linux or Linux on Win. With a whole empty disk, I'd make it a Win7 volume for storing VMs and give your VMs lots of space. –  Shannon Nelson Jan 26 '11 at 5:39
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